Rarely has there been a year when the Oscar nominations felt so pre-ordained. Spoon-fed, you might say.
Oh, the movies are mostly good. 2013 was a decent year in film and the nominees are actually an admirable lot.
But with all the second-tier events like the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics and the SAG awards, not to mention a slew of critics groups around the U.S., the nods seemed already set in stone by the time they were announced on Jan. 16.
And not just because of the repetition of awards. The campaigning this year — magazine ads, talk-show appearances, endless interviews — resulted in the people spending the most money getting the most nominations.
Can nobody else but Cate Blanchett win for best actress? Could we possibly spread around the supporting actor nods to someone other than Jared Leto? Does anybody even remember seeing August: Osage County
This year’s Academy Awards, which air Sunday, is a real contest in most categories. Sure, Frozen has a lock on best animated feature and best song (just ask all those parents of young kids who still can’t “Let it Go”), while Gravity is a shoo-in for the technical categories.
The rest of the race is a little more competitive. Is the best picture battle coming down to the soaring space drama of Gravity vs. the grim historical events of 12 Years a Slave? Will Matthew McConaughey take home best actor, or does recent buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio hint at a surprise? Here are our predictions, all based on a mix of scrupulous research, previous winners, personal opinion, and pure speculation.
Best actor America loves a comeback story and Matthew McConaughey is the story of the year. After coasting through endless romantic comedies and lightweight adventure pictures, he reinvented himself with a series a roles that cast his easy charm in challenging characters. Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club is the culmination of that transformation and it’s just the kind of character conundrum that Oscar loves to honor. But just when it looked like McConaughey had it in the bag, the buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio’s adrenaline-charged performance in The Wolf of Wall Street began to grow, at least as measured by the conversation on social media. And let’s face it, it takes real strength to sustain that kind of energy and compete with Scorsese’s runaway filmmaking.
By the time the Oscars air on March 2, most moviegoers will not have been able to get to theaters to see all the nominees. But thanks to the era of DVD, Blu-ray, streaming video and movies on demand, those who really want to cram for Hollywood’s big night can catch up on a bunch of the films at home.
Some of the front-runners still require a theater trip (more on that later), but for those of you who want to order in and prep for your office pool from the comfort of your own couch, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground.
The biggest talkers
“Dallas Buyers Club” picked up six nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay, but its best chances are in the acting categories, where Matthew McConaughey is a front-runner for best actor and Jared Leto is up in the supporting actor category. The two already took home Golden Globes for their performances. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
“Captain Phillips” also received six nominations, including best picture, adapted screenplay, and actor in a supporting role for Barkhad Abdi, a non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a Somali pirate. Star Tom Hanks was overlooked for his equally strong performance. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and she is a wonder as a Blanche DuBois in contemporary San Francisco. That would make fellow nominee Sally Hawkins (up for best supporting actress) the film’s Stella. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
Measuring films in calendar years and hierarchical lists feels a bit like ranking friends or, worse, rating relationships (Noah Baumbach’s Zagat history of a former romance rather drolly makes the point)—even if the impulse to canonize serves us well historically. And Godard did it. Now receding from view, 2013 may not have been revelatory in the vintage sense, but increasingly the cinema landscape feels like a terrain to be inhabited and traversed, paused in and coursed over. There are epiphanies and lulls, to be experienced in turn, contingent upon the curiosity of the imaginatively agile wanderer. At the very least, film years should me measured against Hong Sang-Soo’s given output. A few associative notes from the trip, then …. as 2014 brings us the “awards season” to remind us where we’ve been.
In April, at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival, sunk into the labyrinth of the infamous Teatro San Martin, Galego filmmaker Lois Patiño apologizes for the projection image quality of a work-in-progress entitled Costa Da Morte (Coast of Death) which he’s presenting along with some fine shorts that evince a young director working in a formal capacity—the long shot—in spectacular fashion. There is a visual splendor recalling Burtynsky, while the intimacy of the eavesdropping sound channels Galician fishermen’s folk tales of shipwrecks and daily catches
Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films
• Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) sits by in the Village club, uninvited, as “500 Miles” is performed by Jim & Jean (Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan) and Troy (Stark Sands). You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles….
• The opening thirteen-minute shot of Gravity, during which you never think about special effects because everywhere you look, it’s real…
• The straight backroads of Nebraska. Doesn’t hurt to have those black cattle standing in the widescreen distance under a leaden sky….
• The curve of a tree limb above two lovers (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux) embracing on a park bench, in Blue Is the Warmest Color…
• The first time the ladies set eyes on each other, American Hustle. Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) to Sydney (Amy Adams) and then to husband (Christian Bale): “I know who you are! I know who she is, Irving!”…
• The peculiarly pastel density of the air in which Her’s islanded Angelenos swim…
• The fat gray worms of industrial smoke — especially from ground-hugging trains — that trail across Miyazaki’s green world in The Wind Rises…
• The Counselor: Leopard (Cameron Diaz) contemplates lamb (Penélope Cruz): “What a strange world you live in.”…
• Sternbergian ballet: the duel between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) at The Grandmaster’s last train stop…
• Post-coitus in Enough Said, Albert (James Gandolfini) wondering whether he’s too heavy for his diminutive lover (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); enough to break your heart…
• At the beginning of Before Midnight, the look on Ethan Hawke’s face as his kid goes to board the plane… Read More “Moments out of Time 2013”
A month behind the annual spectacle of critics and awards groups racing to be first across the finish line with their year-end tallies—in some cases even before the films selected have been seen—we occupy the opposite extreme, finally coming in like Bing Crosby’s horse long after anyone has any further desire to look back at 2013 with a second nudge to read some favorite articles from the year.
Other favorite interviews include Soderbergh, again, laying out his case even better in conversation (“But an alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking…. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.”); Athina Rachel Tsangari exploding several neatly partitioned definitions of what a feminist or a nationalist cinema can be (“Take David Lynch, for example. He’s experiencing life fully, and reflecting it in cinema fully. And I respond to that because I see a revolutionary anarchy in it. Breaking rules and being personal, combining formalism with emotion—this is something I’m trying to negotiate.”); Juan Luis Buñuel on his father (“No. I don’t think [he liked making films]. What he enjoyed was when it was easy. When he was in the studio, he liked that. And when he had his friends around him, [Michel] Piccoli and Fernando Rey and others like that, and then they would be laughing constantly.”); and John Hyams on movie violence (“Is their issue with violence or is their issue with seeing violence look like something upsetting? They want their violence to look clean and not upsetting.”).
Welcome 2014 with one last look back at the best releases of 2013, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.
1. Her (Spike Jonze)
2. Blue is the Warmest Color / La vie d’Adèle (Abdellatif Kechiche)
3. Something in the Air / Apres Mai (Olivier Assayas)
4. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)
5. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
6. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
7. Drug War (Johnnie To)
8. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (dir: Alain Resnais)
9. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
10. Byzantium (Neil Jordan)
Twelve more: Bastards / Les Salauds (Claire Denis), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron), Mud (Jeff Nichols), Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz), Museum Hours (Jem Cohen), Short Term 12 (Destin Creton), Stoker (Park Chan-wook), Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley), The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
Best festival film I saw in 2013 without a release: What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)
2. The Great Beauty
4. Before Midnight
5. All Is Lost
7. Stories We Tell
8. The Act of Killing
9. (tie) In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter / Cutie and the Boxer
I love genre films: horror, science fiction, heist films, con games, crime thrillers, all those modes that entice audiences with a promise of familiar tropes and unexpected twists. Back in my high school days it was pure fan adoration and during my college evolution I embraced the subversive subtexts and mythic explorations. Today I’m a bit more discerning but no less charmed by a fresh take on or a spirited revival of a familiar genre. Those first loves never leave you completely.
Ironically, as the entertainment industry has promoted once unrespectable genres into blockbuster events, I find myself less satisfied than when they existed largely as filler to studio schedules or the domain of upstarts and exploitation producers. They weren’t always good, let alone great, but the possibility of being surprised always brought me back to find the next Terminator or Near Dark or Cronos. The budgets are bigger and the spectacle more lavish in the Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight and Hobbit franchises, but we’ve lost the quirks and creativity in the homogenization and gentrification of what were once outliers.
But the outliers are still there. They’re just harder to find amidst the smothering promotional campaigns of the franchises that devoured Hollywood. Here are some of the pleasures I found between the tentpoles.
With vampires becoming so fashionable it’s refreshing to find something as unsettling as Stoker, the American feature debut of Park Chan-wook. It plays like a vampire movie without a vampire. At least not in the mythic sense of the term. Mia Wasikowska is dreamy and uneasy as a teenage girl preternaturally attuned to the world and Matthew Goode is creepily calm and seductive as her Uncle Charlie. Yes, it’s an offhanded reference to Hitchcock’s take on another dark uncle-niece relationship but she’s no small town innocent. Park sculpts the film beautifully, throwing the literalness of Wentworth Miller’s original screenplay off balance with every shot. There is blood and brutality and the icy threats under silent intimidation, but done with such elegance and eerie suggestion that it feels like a dream. Or an awakening.
We know that DVD and Blu-ray are losing sales ground to digital and streaming, but the epitaphs for physical media are premature. Every year sees another crop of restorations and revivals rolling out in superb and sometimes lavish editions.
Of course there are the upgrades, the previously available classics in newly-restored editions and state-of-the-art digital remasters, but what excites me are the debuts, the films that have never been on disc before and the personal discoveries of films that, while not exactly unknown, have been largely forgotten because of their unavailability.
Here are my perfectly subjective picks for the top ten disc debuts: the greatest classics, rediscoveries, and revivals that made their first appearance in 2013.
In alphabetical order:
French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1928 (Flicker Alley) presents of the American home video debut of five silent classics from Film Albatros, a French studio founded by Russian artists: The Burning Crucible (1923), Kean (1924), The Late Mathias Pascal (1926), Gribiche (1926), and The New Gentlemen (1928). The Late Mathias Pascal, a fabulist epic directed by Marcel L’Herbier (also released separately on Blu-ray), and Jacques Feyder’s sophisticated romantic comedy-turned-political satire The New Gentlemen are the crown jewels of the set but all entertaining and revealing examples of the sophisticated filmmaking coming out of France in the twenties. Each are mastered from 2009 restorations from La Cinématèque Français and feature newly-recorded original scores. DVD.